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This Sunday’s readings (the First Sunday of Lent, Year A) tell us about two different encounters with the devil and his temptations, it is good to take notice. The lessons learned can be applied throughout Lent and beyond.
On the one hand, we have the devil’s encounter with Jesus; on the other, his encounter with Adam and Eve. What can we learn from the two experiences?
First, Jesus’ temptation came after fasting; Adam and Eve’s after enjoying abundance.
Adam and Eve, before the fall, had every right to enjoy the abundance of the Garden of Eden. But today’s first reading, from Genesis, hints at one problem in their enjoyment of them.
When Genesis describes the good fruits of the garden, we learn thy “were delightful to look at and good for food.”
When Genesis describes how Eve fell for the bad fruit, we learn that she saw it “was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.”
Thus, Scripture gives the sense that Eve was focused too much on the externals and not on the deeper significance of all the fruits in the garden. In other words: She focuses on her appetite for the food, rather than its sustenance.
That’s why fasting in Lent is so important. It trains us in mastery over our appetites so we can see the true worth of what is around us.
Second, Jesus quoted scripture accurately; Adam and Eve (and Satan) did not.
When Satan tempts him, Jesus knows just where to turn: To the Word of God. He sternly and truly quotes Scripture to Satan to demonstrate the impossibility of what he is asking. The finality of his statement is hard to beat: “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”
Eve’s grasp of Scripture is not so true.
God had told her, earlier in Genesis chapter 2: “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.”
Eve reports his words this way: “God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.’”
God never said that touching the fruit would make her die. She has reinterpreted God to make him sound unreasonable. This is a first step toward rejecting God.
Jesus teaches us the Lenten way: to review God’s actual words and live by them.
Jesus sent Satan away; Adam and Eve engaged him.
Last, Jesus had the right attitude toward Satan and Temptation: He wanted nothing to do with them. Temptations are inevitable in human life, even for Jesus, but his reaction was unequivocal: “Get away, Satan!” he said, and immediately angels come to minister to him.
Adam and Eve have a more … complicated response. They consider the devil’s lies as being on a par with God’s truths. God said the food would kill — Satan said it would give her wisdom. She sees the fruit on Satan’s terms, eats it changes the course of her life. Instead of angels ministering them, they get angels barring the door to Eden.
Our Lenten practices should imitate Jesus, not Adam and Eve, in response to the devil. A simple “Go away!” that rejects temptations and refuses to entertain the rationalizations that invites temptations.
Photo: Flickr, Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts. (Stein Quadriptych, Two Temptations of Christ).